Anthony Quinn

  • Born: April 21, 1915
  • Died: June 3, 2001
  • Location: Bristol, Rhode Island

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Actor Anthony Quinn smiles during a news conference in Brasilia

Oscar-winning actor dies at 86

Two-time Oscar winner Anthony Quinn, a former shoeshine boy and preacher who became an international leading man with a film career spanning six decades, has died of respiratory failure. He was 86.

Both Quinn's screen presence and personal style were larger than life. The barrel-chested actor fathered 13 children and starred in 100 feature films, including the fierce Bedouin leader in "Lawrence of Arabia'' in 1962 and the earthy hero of the 1964 film "Zorba the Greek.''

He won his first Oscar for his work in the 1952 film "Viva Zapata!'' as the brother of Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata. He picked up his second award for supporting actor for the 1956 drama "Lust for Life.''

In a 1987 interview, Quinn said he reached most of the goals he set for himself as a young boy.

"I never satisfied that kid but I think he and I have made a deal now,'' he said, referring to his younger self. "It's like climbing a mountain: I didn't take him up Mount Everest, but I took him up Mount Whitney.

"And I think that's not bad.''

Quinn died of respiratory failure Sunday morning at a Boston hospital, said Providence Mayor Vincent "Buddy'' Cianci, a friend of the actor. Quinn lived in nearby Bristol.

"He was larger than life,'' Cianci said. "I was proud to call him a friend.''

Quinn's family asked Cianci to make the announcement. The actor had been hospitalized for 17 days with pneumonia and respiratory problems.

Quinn was "one of the most extraordinary actors the cinema has known,'' said Gina Lollobrigida, who played Esmeralda to Quinn's Quasimodo in the 1956 French-Italian movie "Notre Dame de Paris.''

"You could learn from him, from his humility. He loved life and he profited from it until the end,'' Lollobrigida told France-Info radio.

Quinn was born in Mexico of a Mexican mother and an Irish father, who died while fighting for revolutionary leader Pancho Villa, and raised in poverty in East Los Angeles.

In a film career that stretched more than 50 years, Quinn portrayed characters including kings, Indians, a pope, a boxer and an artist. One of his most poignant roles was the brutish, tragic circus strongman in Federico Fellini's 1954 film "La Strada.''

"I never get the girl,'' Quinn once joked in an interview. "I wind up with a country instead.''

To many, Quinn's Oscar-nominated characterization of the Greek peasant Zorba in 1964 remained his most memorable role.

The ouzo-drinking and bouzouki-dancing Zorba was Quinn's favorite role as well, so much so that he returned to the stage in 1983 in a revival of the musical inspired by the film.

As a child, he shined shoes, sold papers and preached. After working as a movie extra, he met and married the adopted daughter of Cecil B. De Mille, Katherine.

A real-life artist, sculptor and author, he studied under architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who encouraged him to take acting lessons.

His role as painter Paul Gauguin in "Lust for Life'' earned him his second Oscar. He was on screen for only eight minutes in the film about the life of Vincent van Gogh.

"He was motivated by the passion for his art,'' said Irene Nagy Dessewffy, a friend of Quinn's who produced art shows and publications featuring his work. "I saw 29 opening nights of Zorba, and other productions in between, and every single night it was as if it were the first time. He did it with a passion.

"He was constantly drawing, or constantly writing, or constantly sketching. He never stopped,'' Dessewffy added. "He was never doing nothing.''

In the 1962 film "Requiem for a Heavyweight,'' Quinn's character was battered by Cassius Clay, playing himself. The young boxer would later change his name to Muhammad Ali.

"He kicked the heck out of me,'' the actor said in 1997.

After leading roles became less frequent, he left Hollywood to live and work in Italy.

"What could I play there? They only think of me as a Mexican, an Indian or a Mafia don,'' he said in a 1977 interview with The Associated Press. He was divorced from Katherine in 1965 after he fathered two children with Italian costume designer Iolanda Addolari, sparking an international scandal.

In 1972, Quinn wrote his autobiography, "The Original Sin,'' which has been translated into more than 18 languages. He followed with a second volume titled "One Last Tango.''

The characteristically straightforward actor shunned the use of ghost writers, favoring blunt honesty over Hollywood image-making.

"I could either lie or tell the truth,'' he said. "I figured the only value in such a book would be to describe my life as I lived it.''

In 1978, he played a character closely resembling the late shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis in "The Greek Tycoon.''

As his film career slowed in recent years, Quinn devoted most of his time to painting and sculpting.

Cianci said Quinn had moved to Bristol because "He wanted to get away from all that New York stuff, all the Hollywood hustle and bustle.''

He had recently worked in television, appearing in a 1990 TV movie based on Ernest Hemingway's classic "The Old Man and the Sea'' and the 1996 HBO movie "Gotti.''

Quinn's second marriage, to Iolanda Quinn, ended in 1997 after 31 years.

He is survived by his wife, Kathy Benvin, who is the mother of the two youngest of his 13 children.

His first child, Christopher, drowned when he was 4 years old in a pond at the home of W.C. Fields. Dessewffy said Quinn grieved about the loss all his life.

"He passionately adores all his children -- he has many kids -- and I think much more so than anybody realizes,'' Dessewffy said. "He absolutely worshipped all his children, he worshipped all his kids, whether they were the oldest or the youngest, he loved all his kids.''